From Interview with VENTS Magazine

Hi Richard, welcome to VENTS! How have you been? On top of the world, thank you.

How did you fall in love with music? I’ve always loved music but writing songs came completely out of the blue literally on the famous pilgrimage road to Santiago de Compostela in Spain (I was driving as a tourist, not walking) when writing one set of lyrics led to another song, and another and the pen didn’t stop. Within a few months I was in the recording studio with a great group of musicians and it hasn’t stopped since. I’d been tinkling on the piano all my life and singing in a jazz choir for almost ten years at that point but getting it all together suddenly happened. Pretty special.

How was the transition from Economy to music? Happily very smooth. I was ready for a new challenge and it is always great if when you stop doing one thing you can move to another. Spending my life helping people anticipate the future has exposed me to lots of different worlds which helps in writing about experiences outside one’s own personal environment.

How did your interest for Country music start? It seems to me that every society has its own forms of popular music, whether we call it country, folk, blues: music which loves rhythms, entertaining, being thoughtful about personal things as well as what is going on in the wider world. Country music to me is one the many great forms of “people music” – perhaps a better term than popular music.

What are your musical influences? Most definitely Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Loudon Wainwright III and it’s been wonderful to follow them down the years. More recently I’ve enjoyed Tom Waits and his inventiveness. My father taught me to play the piano by ear and I loved listening to his music hall and classical 78s.

Let´s talk about your album, I Know A Little Place. Can you talk to us more about the recording and writing process? All my songs start with the lyrics, which usually kick off as a phrase or a thought which then develops itself. I rarely know where the song is going, to begin with. The ones that make it are those that find their own way home. I sing them straight away into a recorder, or with the piano as well if I happen to be with a piano handy. Then I get together with guitarist Bruce Knapp and we start to develop ideas for the arrangement, before we all get into the studio, play around ideas and then record. Richard Sadler (bassist) and Tony Shepherd (drums) shape the pulse, Matt Knapp, producer, drives us on and even might critique my lyrics, and then the final sparkle comes from Callie Howard and Christine Axelle whenever they add their vocals to mine. The tunes seem to come out of the rhythm and the mood of the lyrics.

How did you come up with the title? There is no “title track” but the phrase I know a little place comes from a line of one of the songs, Silvery moon. The title also probably echoed the fact that many of the songs we were working on for this album mentioned a place – but none of them made it to the album! But the title survived.

Where did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics? Just like Bob Dylan your songs always deal with some of the issues the society is facing these days. They must all come from things I’ve experienced, read about, dreamed about, worried about. The excesses of consumerism (Choice) is a big issue. Climate change is a big issue (Cloud on the horizon). I wrote Heroes or zeroes, about how great leaders may fail, before we had a series of dictators (often once seen as liberators) falling. I hope sometimes a song with a few words can be as powerful as writing a book, to get a message across. A song doesn’t take so long to write either – or listen to!Inspiration inspiration was literally written in a rare (I’m happy to say) moment of writer’s block, so I start asking for inspiration inspiration….. But I don’t want to be too preachy either or take myself too seriously. Both Dylan and Cohen gave me the courage to just enjoy the words and let the listener absorb and interpret them.

Can you talk to us more about the album artwork´s concept? Jim Matthews did a great job here in capturing the light and dark moods of the album: from sunshine, to clouds on the horizon, to silvery moons in their different phases. And then emphasising the lyrics. The words are important to me and I hope to listeners too.

RROB silhouette When did you first get into music? What or who Inspired you? My earliest recollection is playing the piano at home and listening to my dad’s 78 rpm records.  I still have some of his record collection: the musical hall humour of Felix kept on walking by Harry Fay, Does the spearmint lose its flavour on the bedpost overnight? by the Two Gilberts, plus great voices such as Paul Robeson, Richard Tauber, and coming from an Irish heritage the fun of If we’re Irish and romance of the Mountains of Mourne.  My dad passed on his love for Handel’s Messiah to me through his records.  He loved music.  At school we developed our own Top Ten classical lists alongside listening to Top of the Pops on the radio.  Big hits for me were anything from the Shadows (e.g. the Rise and Fall of Flingel Bunt, Apache), The Animals, moving on to Simon and Garfunkel, Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Loudon Wainwright III, Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez, James Taylor. Which means I love singer songwriters with something to say and great guitars! I was on the fringes of the music world as a performer: auditioned for a choir school, participated in piano festivals, was the whole of the choir in the village church, tinkling always on the piano but never dedicated enough to put in the hard work (a lot of my spare time was spent as a long distance runner instead).  So it was 30 years before I got back into any form of performance (as a tenor in Eclectic Voices) and another decade until I "became" a singer songwriter. Life is full of surprises!

Who did you grow up listening to, and does that impact on what you create now? Having grown up listening to the great classics as well as the 60s singer songwriters with something to say that has probably pushed me in that direction.  I’ve started with the lyrics, as it’s what I do best and find the easiest (I fancied myself at limericks when young) and the tune/rhythm seems to emerge quite naturally from the pace and meaning of the “poem”.  With the help of brilliant musicians a great group of musicians and producers – Bruce Knapp, Richard Sadler, Tony Shepherd, Matt Knapp –  I then develop them as close as I can to being an enjoyable musical experience, and one that I enjoy.  Selfishly that’s a good place to start but I hope others like it too! Callie Howard and Christine Axelle provide a real zip and depth with their supporting vocals.  As with almost everything creative we all owe a huge debt, knowingly or otherwise, to those who have come before. The challenge is to create something which makes your own contribution.

What has been your favourite moment in music?

Here’s my provisional Top Ten

  1. Listening to the band create and play great music for my songs;
  2. Concerts with Dylan, Leonard Cohen (especially London July 1976 when he was “at his funkiest and wittiest according to Melody Maker), Loudon Wainwright III;
  3. Hearing the opera Simon Boccanegra for the first time;
  4. Discovering  the French singer Serge Lama, and Tom Waits;
  5. Rediscovering Françoise Hardy;
  6. Hearing the sound of Eclectic Voices echo back from the dome of a Turin concert venue in Italy;
  7. Daniel Barenboim’s complete Beethoven sonata performances in London a couple of years back;
  8. Seeing Flanders and Swann in Coventry in 1963;
  9. Hearing Loudon Wainwright III’s “I am the Way” for the first time: so funny, so neat
  10. Hearing a new singer especially when I wasn’t expecting anything special.